Music fills the campus after school at Vista College Prep twice each week. The Phoenix charter school, which opened its doors in 2013, has been steadily growing its curriculum and its extra-curricular activities and The Leading Tone is thrilled to be among its very first after school offerings.
"It is definitely something the students are excited about and one of the highlights of the week," said Kela Powers, founding director of operations. "Initially it was our only afterschool program and we had a wait list to get in, but the wait list ended when Alex [Laing] just allowed the students to join anyway. He took on more students in order to accommodate everyone."
That first year, the program began with the REACH Bucket Band, which stands for the school's core values of Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Courage and Hard Work.
At first, the students were a bit shocked. "They'd never been exposed to drumming, let along drumming on buckets. The progression we've seen is amazing. We have the bucket band incorporated into school assemblies and community performances. Some community groups have made requests that we attend their events every year," expressed Powers. She added that the parents are excited that the Bucket Band is a creative way to build upon the skills the students develop during the academic day. She also said that goal setting and practice are skills that allow for achievement.
It's not just the students and their parents that are excited… the teachers are into it too. "I grew up a Chicago Cubs fan and I remember outside of games there would be all these people playing buckets and it's so cool that our kids get to do it," said Sam Shapiro, manager of the after school program.
He feels the different style of learning can only benefit the students. "It requires practice even if you're frustrated and since you're getting better and getting the chance to perform, it's enormously rewarding," he said. "Refining your craft and going up and executing is a tremendously important skill. When they're 60, they're still going to be doing that to some extent, whatever their craft or skill."
Shapiro finds the program also has extra perks, especially since the coach is the principal clarinetist with the Phoenix Symphony. "For Alex to be their music liaison is incredibly powerful," he said. "We went on a field trip to the symphony and they were amazed to see Alex on the billboard outside. They got to see the symphony players warm up. The other kids from other schools were there too but our kids got a song dedicated to them. It was a very powerful experience."
The students are always eager to know what lies ahead. "There's a curiosity about what happens next," said Julia Meyerson, executive director of the school. She said the students beam with pride at their many requests to perform. "They're the highlight of every local community event in the area."
Meyerson said one of the biggest takeaways is a reminder of how music and academics can go hand-in-hand. "This program truly confirms my belief in the power of music for our students. Music and music education is a great complement to our academic model. I can’t wait to see how this program evolves with our school.”
The Leading Tone started its after school program at Vista College Prep with the REACH Bucket Band. It has since added stepping, recorders, and other instruments.